The primary reason I go to photo conferences (unless I am a speaker) is to network. Networking will help propel your photo career in ways you may not suspect or recognize, but it can be a very big part of both the business and creative side of being a photographer.
Steve Jobs said in an interview for "Business Week:"
“Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.”
The "ad hoc meeting" is the key in that quote. It perfectly describes the typical networking encounter. When two or more photographers get together and organically share their struggles, hopes, dreams, desires, problems, solutions, connections, etc., they can learn from each other.
Your experience can benefit those around you and their experience can benefit you. It’s a two-way street.
Here are a few tips to make the most of it.
1. Listen more than you talk. Let the other person(s) you are with share first and most often.
2. Don’t just be a taker. If you get a good tip, be sure you give two in return.
3. Be supportive and be careful not to brag.
4. Ask open-ended questions.
5. Be a resource for others first - then plenty of help will come your way when it’s time.
6. If you are networking know why. Have goals. Be specific. Ask specific questions.
7. Refer jobs to people you meet when networking if those jobs/clients don’t suit you. And when people give you referrals follow-through immediately with the prospect as a sign of respect.
8. Stay in touch with your networking partners after the event to keep the conversation going.
9. Don’t substitute social media for face-to-face networking. As powerful as social media is, there’s no substitute for a real handshake.
10. Network as often as you can. You never know when it will pay off.
I enjoy networking. It’s also happened to be responsible for much of my early business in the photo world. Networking literally brought me some of the biggest photo jobs of my life so don’t take it lightly.
Now go network. And remember Skip and I are rooting for you.